This excerpt is from Candy and Blood. Available for purchase on Amazon now.
“You don’t even know me!” Even as I spoke, I could hear the wild, angry hysteria in my voice—but I couldn’t stop. “What are you talking about ‘we?’ There’s no ‘we.’ I’ve been in this building with you for two years now, and you have never said a single word to me, but now that you need me, it’s ‘we?’ And ‘we’re all in this together?’ I don’t think so!” My muscles were tense and my heart thrashed its way up into my throat, giving my voice an unnatural tremor that I fought to control. I wasn’t myself. Shower deprivation can be a dangerous thing.
It had been almost two weeks since the lockdown had started, and a week without a proper shower—nothing but early morning bird baths that barely sufficed to keep me from getting too musty, but never left me feeling completely clean. Sitting in my bunk on lockdown all day, I had to combat that not-so-fresh feeling. By 3:00 p.m. on Friday, the whole deck was sure we’d be getting showers that shift. The previous Friday we’d gotten to shower, and on a lockdown inmates were entitled/legally mandated to be provided a shower once a week. So the odds were good for a repeat.
I could hear through my door when other guys asked the C/O as he passed if he would be doing showers. His lackadaisical response was, “Not yet.” That reply was ambiguous, so when he passed my cell, I put the shower question to him as well. I got some clarity for my persistence. “Yup, just not yet.” That “yup” was the most beautiful syllable in the world to me. The “just not yet” was a little disconcerting, but within ten minutes I heard something that put me at ease.
The wheels on the bottom of the carts that carried our food to us began to rumble their signature sound. Similar to Pavlov’s poor pooches, my stomach involuntarily growled for whatever sloptastic dish was heading my way. (It was tater tot casserole—not nearly as tasty as it sounds.) In the past, the C/O had preferred to keep traffic on the deck to a minimum so he could monitor inmates as they went to the showers. Thus, it stood to reason that once chow had been passed out and a little time afforded for eating, he would start letting guys out for their shower. I was confident that I’d finally get a proper shower and go to sleep feeling fully fresh and clean.
Unfortunately, reason doesn’t always have a place in prison.
It was nearly seven before the first shower was started, and the C/O, who was known to be a bit of a Robocop, didn’t seem to be in a hurry to make sure everyone got a shower before he went home. In the past, he had put strict limits on the length of one’s shower and personally shuttled inmates from cell to shower and back again to ensure there was no stopping to check in with a buddy in another cell. Today, however, he was letting guys take their own sweet time in the shower and lollygag on the deck afterwards. I held out hope for a shower long after common sense, reason, and experience had conspired to let me know that showers were done for the day. I laid down for sleep feeling dingy, scummy, and grungier than ever.
My habit as an early riser paid off the next day. I was one of the few guys awake when the C/O came and let people out for showers. This move on the officer’s part was completely unexpected, but a wonderfully welcome morning blessing. My cell just missed the cutoff for the first round of showers, but we were next in line, and I still had all my shower paraphernalia set out from the night before.
I waited with bated breath, fantasizing over all the cleanliness I was about to enjoy. My hair felt dry and stiff as straw. I couldn’t wait to lather, rinse, and repeat. Oh! I was going to repeat so much! The thought of soap suds caressing my skin was practically erotic. It had been a while for me. (Since I’d showered, I mean.) The eager anticipation I’d harbored the night before, only to be disappointed, had made my yearning for a cleansing all that much stronger and more difficult to deny. I planned to scrub every inch of myself, shed spent skin cells like corn husks, and let the hot spray work its rejuvenating magic. It was going to be an epic shower.
By the time the C/O came for me, I was practically shaking with enthusiasm, like a dog that has been cooped up in the house alone all day when his master finally arrives to let him out for a walk. The only thing that kept me from running to the shower was that it might have gotten me in trouble and caused the C/O to refuse me a shower as punishment. So I walked, but quickly—I couldn’t get there fast enough
All I did was hurry up and wait because every shower was in use. Anticlimactic, I know. I was next, though, while my cellie and neighbors filed into the small communal shower room after me with a strange mix of sleep and excitement in their eyes. They may have been slumbering when the C/O opened their door, but everyone desperately wanted a shower. As we all crowded into the enclosed space, the accumulated aromatic funk of our combined BO made it clear that everyone also desperately needed a shower. I was so jittery with anticipation that I couldn’t even sit on one of the wooden benches worn smooth from the friction of innumerable inmate asses. Instead I bounced back and forth from foot to foot, ears pricked up, and tried to hear when one of the showers was turned off. This would indicate that my wait would be just that much shorter.
“Hey man, let me get ahead of you real quick.”
I was so lost in my daydreams of a luxurious shower that it took a moment for me to realize the voice’s owner was addressing me. Once I looked at who it was, it took another long moment for me to figure out who it was. He wasn’t my neighbor; in fact, he lived on the other end of the deck, and if the C/O continued on the same course he’d begun, the inmate who was currently addressing me most likely wouldn’t get his shower until after lunch. I don’t even know how he got out of his cell. After a stretch of silence, I realized that he expected me to respond to whatever it was he was saying.
“What?” I asked, ever the eloquent one.
“Man, I said I’m out here bogus; I’m gonna just jump in the shower real quick, like five minutes, and then I’m up. Cool?” The longer he talked, the more I recognized who he was, and the angrier I got. His was one of the faces that passed by my window each morning of the lockdown because he was a cook in the chow hall and, therefore, deemed essential enough to be pulled out despite the restricted movement. This also meant that he’d washed a load of laundry and showered every single day for the past week while I was feebly splashing around in the sink, scrubbing my clothes out with a bar of state soap and hanging them on a shoelace strung across the window. I didn’t hold this against him or begrudge him the special treatment he got because he had a job. I just found the very idea of him showering again before me to be offensive and profoundly unfair.
“No,” I said succinctly and definitively.
“What do you mean? Why not?”
“You’ll get your shower; he’ll come around to your cell.” I tried to remain logical and calm.
“You don’t know that. What, are you the police now?”
“What the hell did you just say?” I reflexively squared off on him as I asked the question, and my voice rose to a threatening tone. He had asked a stupid question, almost akin to accusing me of being a snitch or a collaborator with the authorities. It was a jab meant to get a rise out of me. And it did.
“You don’t know if he’s gonna give me a shower later. You don’t know that.” The cook was adamant, and I had no response, so he continued. “How could you know what he’s gonna do? I just want a quick shower. I’m out here bogus so I’m gonna get in, get out, and quick get back to the cell before the C/O can see me.” This was a declarative statement, not an interrogatory one. He was stating his specific intentions, not asking permission to jump ahead of me.
“No, you’re not,” I said, my voice calm and serious, angry but in control. “You’ve been going to work all week, right?”
“Yeah, so?” he replied, on the defensive.
“So, you had a shower yesterday at about two o’clock, right?”
“You’ve been waiting overnight for a shower, and I’ve been waiting over a week for mine.”
“So what? Who cares?” His face was all scrunched and twisted in on itself as if he had gotten a strong whiff of something extraordinarily foul. “What’s your problem, bro? This is how we do it.”
“What’s my problem?” My voice was rising again.
“Yeah.” His voice rose to meet mine, and his tone became more aggressive.
“Whoa, whoa, come on, guys! We’re all gonna get a shower. You’re out here bogus, so you go ahead before me.” It was my neighbor, Jordy, telling the cook to go before him. Jordy wasn’t exactly my road dog, but I thought I was cool with him until he stepped in to cut me out like that. He turned to me and continued to present what I felt was an ill-conceived solution to our argument. “It’s not that big a deal, man, so just chill.” I felt I was being ganged up on, and I pretty much did the opposite of “chill.”
“What are you talking about? I’m next!” I said. “I don’t care if he goes before you, Jordy, that’s on you, but I’m next!” I couldn’t control my voice. “In fact, this ain’t got shit to do with you, Jordy, so stay out of it.”
“Hey man, he just knows how it is.” This, from the cook. “We’ve been doing this for some years, and he knows how we do it. We gotta look out for each other, you know, we’re all in this together.” That’s what finally pushed me over the edge.
“You don’t even know me!” I screamed. “What are you talking about ‘we?’ There’s no ‘we.’ I’ve been in this building with you for two years now, and you have never said a single word to me, but now that you need me, it’s ‘we?’ And ‘we’re all in this together?’ I don’t think so!”
After my outburst, I walked out of the shower room, livid, and checked to see where the C/O was, and whether or not our raised voices (mine mostly) had attracted his unwanted attention. They hadn’t; in fact, he was nowhere in sight. I was muttering under my breath; a few choice curses even made their way into my quiet tirade, and my fists were clenching and unclenching painfully, as if to release my rage through my palms. Instead, that rage was feeding on itself, growing stronger, until I felt I was going to really, finally, fully, and completely lose it with the cook. It seemed inevitable. Into that mental maelstrom a still, small voice from within informed me that I was being irrationally irate and allowing myself to get all bent out of shape over something that was essentially senseless. Or, something that wasn’t worth going to Seg over. Of course, knowing that I’m being unreasonable and actually putting a stop to my borderline idiotic behavior are two separate things.
I took a few deep breaths before walking back into the shower room. I felt mostly calmed, but an undercurrent of ire and indignation lay just below the surface that was again threatening to bubble up and overtake my better judgment. I took a seat on the bench. I was no longer jittery with excitement. When the next shower came open, I nodded at the cook. “Go ahead, man.” He tossed his clothes on the bench beside me and nodded back to me before going to the shower. I only had to wait a couple minutes more for the next one to become available. Once ensconced in the stall, I took a luxuriant twenty minutes to soak and wash and let the steaming stream loosen my tensed muscles. The experience was partially marred by the turmoil in my mind over behaving like such a complete idiot. While I felt I was still correct about the cook having to wait his turn, I knew I’d been way out of pocket for losing my temper that egregiously.
When I was finished showering and about to leave, I noticed that the interloping cook had left behind his sweatshirt in his haste to retreat back to his cell before the C/O could detect his unauthorized movement. I could have stolen it, thrown it in a shower, or even just left it there. I had several shades of petty to choose from. But I went ahead and swung by his cell and made sure he got his sweatshirt back. This act didn’t make me the bigger man, or even a better man. It doesn’t mean that I’m not petty either. I’m just not that petty. It may be that shower deprivation brings out a person’s true colors. If this is true, not all my colors are very pretty.